The Inverted Row : Strength & Conditioning Journal

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Exercise Technique

The Inverted Row

Ronai, Peter MS, CSCS-D, NSCA-CPT-D, CSPS; Scibek, Eric MS, ATC, CSCS

Editor(s): Dawes, Jay PhD, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D, FNSCA

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Strength and Conditioning Journal 36(4):p 94-97, August 2014. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000070
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Abstract

TYPE OF EXERCISE

The inverted row (or horizontal pull-up) is a closed kinetic chain, multijoint, upper-body exercise that can improve an athlete's shoulder girdle strength and stability, spine stability, and ability to produce high forces during pulling activities like (but not limited to), rope climbing, rock climbing, gymnastics, rowing, and swimming (2,5,6).

MUSCLES INVOLVED

  • Initial starting position/portion of the inverted row (Figure 1): middle trapezius, lower trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoid, infraspinatus, latissimus dorsi, teres major, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris, palmaris longus, flexor digitorum profundus, flexor digitorum superficialis, and flexor policis longus, external oblique, erector spinae, gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, and biceps femoris act isometrically (3,4).
  • Ascending portion of the inverted row (Figure 2): middle trapezius, lower trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoid, infraspinatus, latissimus dorsi, teres major, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris, palmaris longus, flexor digitorum profundus, flexor digitorum superficialis, and flexor policis longus act concentrically, whereas the external oblique, erector spinae, gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, and biceps femoris continue to act isometrically (3,4).
  • Descending portion of the inverted row: middle trapezius, lower trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoid, infraspinatus, latissimus dorsi, teres major, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris, palmaris longus, flexor digitorum profundus, flexor digitorum superficialis, and flexor policis longus act eccentrically, whereas the external oblique, erector spinae, gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, and biceps femoris continue to act isometrically (3,4).
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Figure 1:
Starting position of the inverted row exercise.
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Figure 2:
Ascending phase of the inverted row exercise.

BENEFITS OF THE EXERCISE

The inverted row is a closed kinetic chain upper-body exercise that promotes proximal stability of the shoulder girdle and lumbosacral spine, multiplanar motion, and multiple muscle cocontractions necessary to perform activities like climbing ropes and poles, swimming, rowing/paddling, gymnastics, pole vaulting, and wrestling. Inverted rows have been used as a physical fitness testing tool with elite level athletes who engage in activities requiring high relative upper-body strength (2–6).

STARTING POSITION

Subjects grasp an overhead horizontal bar in line with the lower chest (within either a “Smith machine” or a power rack) with a slightly wider than shoulder width, pronated (palms away) hand grip while lying horizontally below the bar. Elbows are fully extended while the body is aligned in a straight line from the top of the head to the heels. The entire body (except for the heels) rests just above the ground at the bottom of the inverted row. Ankles are dorsiflexed and serve (in conjunction with the ankle joint) as the fulcrum during the inverted row. Static actions of muscles described in the previous (muscles involved) section facilitate the shoulder girdle's stability in a relative position of abduction and external rotation and the glenohumeral (shoulder), elbow, wrist, and hand joints in positions of relative horizontal adduction and flexion, respectively (3,4). The trunk maintains an upright, neutral position between flexion and extension with the head, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles aligned (Figure 1) (1,3,4,7).

ASCENDING PHASE

While maintaining an elongated and neutral trunk position, the scapulae are forcibly retracted by concentric actions of the rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius. The glenohumeral (shoulder) joint is horizontally abducted by concentric actions of the infraspinatus, posterior deltoid, teres major, and latissimus dorsi muscles. The elbow, wrist/hand joints are flexed by concentric actions of muscles discussed in the previous (muscles involved/ascending portion) section. The body is pulled upright in a curvalinear path until the lower chest is level with the bottom surface of the horizontal bar (1,3,4,7). The performer is encouraged to avoid all trunk flexion and extension, swinging, kicking, and twisting motions and to pause momentarily to allow the chest to rest against the bottom of the horizontal bar. Performers are verbally cued to “keep the head, neck and trunk in line (ears, shoulders, hips, and knees),” “keep the chest high,” “squeeze the shoulder blades down, back and in,” and to “pull the arms and elbows down toward the floor and in toward the ribs.” Maximal work and repetitions can be performed by maintaining a smooth and steady, controlled, and self-selected speed during the ascending phase of the inverted row (Figure 2) (1).

DESCENDING PHASE

While maintaining shoulder girdle and glenohumeral (shoulder) joint fixation and stabilization, the performer lowers the entire body to the original starting/static hanging position. Eccentric actions of muscles discussed in the previous section (muscles involved/descending portion) help the body to follow a curvilinear and controlled downward path and help to prevent excessive scapular (shoulder girdle) elevation, external rotation and abduction, glenohumeral (shoulder) horizontal adduction, flexion, elbow extension, and trunk flexion and/or extension (1,3,4,7). Performers are verbally cued to “stay tight,” “stay straight,” “avoid dropping,” and to “lower gently” during descending phase of the pull-up (1).

VARIATIONS

Inverted rows can be performed in either a standing (Figure 3), hook lying (supine under the bar with bent knees) (Figure 4) or in a full position with the heels elevated across the end of a portable training bench (placed perpendicular to the long axis of the performer's body) (Figure 5) to regress or progress the inverted row exercise (1,3). Modifications in intensity are accomplished with these 3 variations by changing the length of the moment of inertia (segment length of the body being lifted from the fulcrum [ankle/heel]).

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Figure 3:
The inverted row from the standing position.
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Figure 4:
The inverted row from the bent knee/hook lying position.
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Figure 5:
The inverted row from a heels elevated position.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS

Performers can increase their endurance strength and ability to perform more inverted row repetitions by combining sets of full body length, elevated, and hook lying inverted rows within their workouts. Inverted rows and their variations can be performed with suspension-type exercise equipment (not shown). In addition, full body weight inverted rows can be progressed by adding weight (weight belts, vests, etc.) to the performer.

REFERENCES

1. Boyle M. Functional Training for Sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2003. pp. 12–14, 131.
2. Ellenbecker T, Davies G. Closed Kinetic Chain Exercise: A Comprehensive Guide to Multiple-Joint Exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2001. pp. 1–5, 29.
3. Fenwick CMJ, Brown SHM, McGill SM. Comparison of different rowing exercises: Trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load and stiffness. J Strength Cond Res 23: 350–358, 2009.
4. Floyd RT. Structural Kinesiology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2012. pp. 208–209, 217.
5. Prokopy M, Ingersoll C, Nordenschild E, Katch F, Gaesser G, Weltman A. Closed-kinetic chain upper body training improves throwing performance of NCAA division I softball players. J Strength Cond Res 22: 1790–1798, 2008.
6. Ransdell L, Murray T, Gao Y. Off-ice fitness of elite female ice hockey players by team success, age, and, player position. J Strength Cond Res 27: 875–884, 2013.
7. Verstegen M, Williams P. Core Performance. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 2004. pp. 136–137.
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Figure
© 2014 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association